My Own Christmas Newsletter. Spoiler Alert – Includes Swine Flu

December, 2009

        It may be better to give than receive, but I’d rather read your newsletters and cards than try to remember the past year in enough detail to write my own.

        Memory isn’t always accurate in my case.  A friend once accused me of “painting the past in pastels.”  I beg to differ.  Every writer I know paints the past in different colors but not all of them are pale. I don’t always note in which months these things took place, but I do recall the emotion vividly.

        Our little Caedan Ray had swine flu.  It began with symptoms of a regular flu but perhaps because it happened sometime in summer, an alert doctor tested for H1N1 and that’s what it was.  Immediately Caedan was quarantined with her mommy. Even her dad, Edan, couldn’t be close to her.  I wanted to go to L.A. to help, but the doctor wouldn’t allow that either.

        One of the most frightening parts was that one day Caedan got quieter and more pale and lay down on the floor. Cathleen rushed her back to the doctor where she was found to be oxygen-depleted and put on respiratory therapy. This disease can affect lungs so quickly and with terrifying results. Better news – Cathleen had a “regular” flu, but no one else close to them got Swine Flu.

        Caedan started Kindergarten in September, the youngest in her class.  She has just now turned 5. So far so good.  She loves school.  Loves the work and according to her teacher, loves visiting (too much it seems) with her schoolmates.

        I remain in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, while my family is in southern California, so I spend a good deal of time commuting.  It’s worth it for the blessed fog and redwoods near me – and then the warm reception I receive when I show up at the door to my girls’ place.

        My biggest thrill so far this year (There are still a few days left and I wouldn’t mind another big thrill.  Are you listening, Santa?) was winning the John Steinbeck Short Story Award for my story, “Hank Williams Was A Friend Of Mine” which is from my collection in progress.

        I hope each of you has some pastel-colored memory to keep.  

                                               Anita

 

  

© Anita Garner 2009

 

 

 

 

 

God bless you anyway, the panhandler said.

He said it to my back as I walked away. That was his reaction after he asked if I have something for him and I answered, “Not today.”   His tone made it a rebuke. God bless me anyway?  Would I have been sincerely blessed if I had deposited money into his hand, the way I sometimes do?  

This was in  San Francisco where hundreds of homeless people live.  Hands are outstretched all over town.  Most times I choose one or two people on my route and deposit my donation.   One time as I passed by a particularly aggressive seeker, I shook my head no and he waited ’til I was almost out of hearing and then shouted after me, “You have a beautiful smile!”  I wonder how many people turn around and give after hearing that?

In the small town where I spend time, three or four beggars have regular posts. One is a young man with a dog who works a particular median by a stop light.  Another works a four-corner area.  From what I can see, about one in five cars hands over some money. 

A friend tells me she worries about how to explain this to her children without expressing her own concern that the money they collect may be used to buy drugs or booze.  The man’s sign said “Need food.”  She decided to take him at his word.   

Her little boy asked,

“Why does he look like that?”

Her girl said,

“He wants some money, mommy, give him some money.  He’s so sad.” 

She told her children, 

“I believe he’s hungry.  Let’s go get him some food.” 

She told the man they’d be right back, and they returned with a full meal in a take-out container.  She was concerned that food wasn’t really what he wanted, and she didn’t know what she’d tell her very young kids, so she handed him the food and hustled them away.

She wants her children to know and understand that not everyone who begs is on drugs, but nor is every homeless person noble.  Like her,  I don’t want to buy drugs for anyone, but I donate anyway.  There is compassion for every one of them, no matter the circumstances that ejected them from whatever shelter they once had.  What do you do? 

Ó Anita Garner

Grandparent Geography

My only grandchild lives in Los Angeles.  I live near San Francisco.  It’s a 400 mile trip.  I’ve checked flights and with travel to and from airports and renting a car when I get there, it’s easier to drive.  I love this place where I live but I also love that little girl, so I drive a lot.

From the time Caedan Ray was born, her mommy always said the same thing at the start of each visit.  As I scooped up the baby, she’d ask, “You got your Hammy?”  After Caedan learned to talk, when her mother asked the question, she answered with a big loud “Yes!”

During my drive south on I-5, her parents and I stay in phone contact and they tell her, “Hammy’s almost here.”  When I pull up in front, Caedan is waiting at the front door or outside, standing with a parent by my parking spot.  As soon as I’m out of the car, I hold out my arms.  So far she chooses to jump up.

At the end of each visit, after a sad goodbye, I head north toward home, already missing the little family.  At my halfway point, Harris Ranch, I feel a hint of “almost home.” The horizon shifts on the last hour of the drive.  Northern California skies always hold a promise for me.  That’s what I see when I look ahead.  

I live in Marin County, in the redwoods.  This is a place where the ratio of open space to developed land is astonishing and astonishingly beautiful.  Is it foolish to love and need specific surroundings so much?  Or is it something we’ve earned at this time of life?

During the last hour of my drive, traffic picks up considerably as I merge with drivers heading home from San Francisco, coming off the Bay Bridge and through several interchanges.  The skies shift again.  It’s usually late afternoon when I make this part of the trip, and fog rolls in.  I love fog.  It’s one of the reasons I live here.

From the top of the Richmond Bridge, I see ships alongside the dock. Welcome home.  The city shimmers in the distance.  Welcome home.  Here’s the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.  A commuter ferry coasts to a stop as I pass.  Welcome home. I approach my exit and see redwoods in the distance.  It’s familiar and beautiful and it’s blue and green and peaceful here.

But this homecoming is also teary.  As I arrive at home, I’m thinking of the greeting I received from my granddaughter when I reached her door a few days ago.  This time, she controlled everything.  She didn’t wait for me to hold out my arms.  Instead, as soon as I was out of the car, she leaped up and hugged me.  She didn’t wait for her mommy to ask the usual question.  Instead, she announced by herself for the first time, “I got my Hammy!”

It’s good to be home and it’s sad to be home.  This commute certainly isn’t getting any easier.

Ó By Anita Garner